As Without

Winter: 16 years at the Monastery, five months after first flight; Day after Coronation

Sunar watched as Tabitha walked into the room, glanced at the datapad on the table, and rolled her eyes. He quirked a single eyebrow at her while striving to keep his expression neutral, and gestured to the chair with a tilt of his head, but allowed himself an inward sigh. She had been at the monastery for a couple of years, long enough to know better than to show disrespect to someone assigned to teach her, even if that person was only an Adept. It looks worse than her Master thought, possibly even as bad as Sierra suggested. She may be right that Tabitha has become resistant to everything outside. Not surprised that Master Lisa isn’t aware of the extent of the issue, she only took the girl on as apprentice a couple of weeks ago. Still, I will have to thank Sierra for the tip

The apprentice took a seat at the table, turned the electronic tablet away from herself, and gazed at him expectantly.

Sunar shook his head and waved a hand towards the pad. “Your first lesson is on there. It is just a quick quiz so that I know what gaps I should be trying to fill.”

Tabitha’s eyes tightened and the corners of her mouth turned down as she tossed a brief glare at the tablet. The moment passed quickly, and many would have missed it, but Sunar did not. He allowed his displeasure to show on his face as she spoke. “I do not understand why we need to learn so much about the world outside. Isn’t that why we are here? So we can live in a safe community without their concerns and the way they worship their…” she waved a dismissive hand at the pad, “gadgets to disturb us?”

Sunar shook his head and crossed his arms., “We are here for many reasons. One of which is safety, and, yes, to live free of the worship of high technology. However, another is to be free of the reactionary attitudes so many hold as such attitudes are limiting and can interfere with the path of self understanding. To eschew technology all together, or to despise knowledge of the world outside, is just as reactionary and just as great an impediment to enlightenment.”

He uncrossed his arms then gestured toward the window. “Consider this: if you wish to plant a crop of wheat, which would you say is the best tool to use? The tractor or the hand trawl?”

Tabitha stared at him for several moments, a scowl threatening to form on her face. She took a deep breath, then: “By asking the question after your other statements, you obviously expect me to either answer the hand trawl, in order to be stubborn and hold to the purity of my beliefs, or to answer the tractor, in order to get the goal accomplished more quickly and leave one to higher pursuits such as meditation, study or practice.” She gave a quick shake of her head, her expression clearing. “However, I am going to answer according to my own designs. I do say the hand trawl, but not out of stubbornness, but rather because I believe that to use the tractor is to embrace the outside world. Whereas the hand trawl allows us a more pure expression of labor.”

Sunar nodded and leaned against the counter with his back to the window, “Being willing to answer honestly in the face of what you know will be opposition does you credit. At the same time your answer is incorrect, as is your supposition about the answer I expect, because of the limiting beliefs you started with.”

She blinked at him several times, and her head moved back slightly.

He allowed a small smile to play at the corners of his lips, but made sure he kept the intensity in his gaze. “Everything you said was shaped by the worship of machines, and not by the purpose of the planting.”

Tabitha’s brows knitted together as she regained her composure. She began to make a sharp reply but Sunar cut her off with a raised eyebrow.

Her face took a rebellious cast for a moment, but a hard look brought her back to stillness, so he continued, “Your statement about the hand trawl is, whether you like it or not, being shaped by a reactionary attitude towards machines and the outside world’s love of them. If you choose your path based on the direction another has taken, it does not matter if you choose to go the same direction they did or the opposite direction; it is still their choice which decided yours.

“The correct answer requires knowing what path you wish to take. In this case, knowing for what reason are you planting your crops. Are you planting them to commune with the soil, with life, to fully and deeply experience the growth of the seed to a plant, to nourish it fully that it may nourish you in turn? Then use your bare hands, and perhaps a stick break the ground. Are you trying to feed all in the monastery? To provide our kitchens with nourishment? Then the hand trawl may be best. It will keep you close to the soil and allow you to closely tend the plants, without taking far too much time. Are you trying to feed the entire village down there? To provide them food in the case of famine, or to sell or trade crops to them that we may acquire things we need from them? Then use the tractor.

“The choice of tool to use should be shaped by your reason for using the tool, not some ideology about what tool is best, or some emotions about the outside world.”

Tabitha rolled her eyes again, then quickly cleared her expression.

Sunar fought to keep his irritation from showing. “Yes, I know about your resistance to all that is Outside, Tabitha, and that attitude is…”

Tabitha interrupted, her tone of voice faintly sarcastic. “Bad, bad, bad. Hatred is the ear probe, or whatever it is.” She waved the statement, and his comments, away with one hand. “I don’t hate the Outside, though, it just doesn’t have anything left to teach me. I was out there for a good part of my life, you know. You can’t understand, Sunar, you haven’t been Out There, not really, that is, you haven’t lived Out There. There is…”

Sunar allowed a scowl to settle onto his features until her words stopped then he straightened and put a slight edge into his voice, “Did I say anything about good or bad, apprentice? Did I say anything about hatred? No. I had not planned to, either, and I will thank you not to put words in my mouth. Your belief that there is nothing to be learned from the outside world is severely limiting. ‘As without, so within’ is not a single-layered teaching which addresses the little bit of the world you choose to inhabit and that space’s relationship to your inner world. It is much deeper than that.”

He saw that he’d gained her full attention, so he began to gesture with his speech, “From a single cell in your body and its interactions with the cells around it, to how the parts of your body interact with each other, to your interactions with this temple, this temple’s interaction with the village, to the community formed by us and the village with the world beyond, to the nation, the planet, this star cluster, the galaxy, and beyond. Layer after layer, all interacting with one another to form the tapestry of life. To deny any layer of that tapestry, to refuse to know or have any understanding of it, is to create a willful blindness of your own understanding of yourself.”

Tabitha sat there, her face pointed downwards, but with a slightly rebellious cast to her chin. He could see her processing the information, part of her pushing the teaching away, while part of her held onto it. He moved to a window, content to let her think at her own speed, and gazed out over the valley. Movement at the monastery’s main gates caught his attention. A small group stood there – humans or elves, he couldn’t tell from the distance. One of them paced back and forth in front of the gate and made the occasional broad gesture. He appeared to have something in one hand, which he kept holding up in front of his face.

Sunar opened the window, and a familiar voice amplified by some electronic device drifted in:

“Mi’Lord Sunar Dawnsflight! You craven coward! You winged, flying freak who hides behind these pitiful gates! Come out here! Face me you worthless yellow coward! You insulted me, you insulted my family, you insulted my House with your cowardly ambush and your lies! Are you too big a coward to face me directly? I am…”

As Tabitha stepped up behind him, Sunar closed the window and turned to face her. He caught the last of a look of scorn, presumably directed at the man below, as her features moved towards disappointment, “Why did you shut the window? Don’t you want to know who he is?”

Sunar let the corners of his mouth turn down and his eye ridges knit together, “I know exactly who he is. He is a born-zero dark elf who is too stubborn, and too proud, for his own good. He may even be almost as stubborn as a certain pupil of mine, or, possibly, as stubborn as I was as a child.” He shook his head briefly, “Well, maybe not that stubborn. ‘As without so within’, indeed. Come, let us go give him a bit of the drama he wishes to play at.”

Genuine surprise skittered across Tabitha’s expression as her eyebrows shot up. “You aren’t going to fly down there to meet him?”

He let a smile spread across his face. “Why would I do that? Always use the right tool for the job, remember? If I used my wings I would give him the satisfaction of even more drama, and the sight of me diving at him might even put more wind in his sails. If I walk, however, then he has to stand there and exhaust himself for that much longer by prancing around like a baboon. No, I think my feet are the best tool for the job.”

A conspiratorial smile spread across his pupil’s features as they set out at a leisurely pace.

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